Lawyers question dismissal by ‘black jail’ detainees

Defense attorneys Zhang Lei (left) and Li Baiguang (right)
standing in front of the Wenzhou Municipal Public Security
Bureau. (Photo: China Aid)

China Aid
Translated by Carolyn Song and Brynne Lawrence. Edited in English by Ava Collins.

(Wenzhou, Zhejiang—Dec. 4, 2015) After barring meetings with detainees for months, Wenzhou authorities issued a notice on Nov. 13, stating that various detained human rights lawyers had dismissed their legal representation. Fearing that the dismissal was coerced or falsified, the affected attorneys demanded meetings with their clients and called for corrective action against the public security bureau.

The Wenzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau (PSB) informed Zhang Lei from the Beijing Municipal Tongjing Zhenghan Law Firm and Li Baiguang from the Beijing Municipal Gongxin Law firm over the phone on Nov. 13 that their respective clients, Zhang Kai and Liu Peng, were decommissioning them. On Nov. 16, the attorneys each received photocopied dismissal papers on PSB letterhead with the clients’ fingerprints beside their names.

Zhang Kai, a human rights lawyer who most recently defended churches against unlawful demolitions in Zhejiang, and one of his assistants Liu Peng, were detained on Aug. 25 and extra-judicially sentenced to six months of “residential surveillance in a designated location,” which is the official term for a black jail. Detainees in these locations, which exist outside of registered detention centers, are often tortured and forbidden to meet with lawyers. Zhang Kai and Liu were both charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” and the more serious charge of “stealing, spying, buying and illegally providing state secrets and intelligence to entities outside of China.”

Zhang Kai

Li Baiguang and Zhang Lei, who have made multiple unsuccessful attempts to meet with their clients over the past three months, doubted the validity of the dismissals. Zhang Lei said that he took the papers to Zhang Kai’s mother, who originally commissioned him to defend her son, for verification, but she was unable to determine if the handwriting was Zhang Kai’s, nor could she confirm that the dismissal was something Zhang Kai would have wanted. Li Baiguang was likewise unable to confirm with Liu’s mother that Liu’s papers were authentic.

Zhang Lei and Li Baiguang sent letters to multiple government organizations in Wenzhou calling for action against the Wenzhou PSB, including the Wenzhou Municipal Bureau of Supervision, the Wenzhou Municipal People’s Procuratorate, and various letters to the PSB itself.

The attorneys sent two nearly-identical letters to the PSB, one on behalf of each of their clients, demanding in-person meetings to confirm that the dismissals were genuine and to clarify various stipulations in the documents.

“Was this slip of paper completely written by [Zhang Kai/Liu Peng] himself, or not? If so, … is this or is this not because he experienced cruel force, deceitful coercion, or other illegal treatment to issue this request that is clearly contrary to common sense?” the two letters asked.

Zhang Lei also requested clarification of the so-called “temporary” nature of his dismissal. “How long is this ‘temporary’ dismissal’s ‘temporary’ period?” he asked. “Is it a day? Or 10 days? Or a month? In the situation that this defense lawyer and [his client] Zhang Kai’s rights to legal correspondence are illegally deprived by the PSB, … how will Zhang Kai notify his lawyer when this temporary dismissal’s ‘temporary’ period is over? Or, since 10 days have already passed since this ‘temporary dismissal,’ is this defense lawyer presently commissioned to continue defending him?”

In a joint letter to the Wenzhou Municipal People’s Procuratorate, a prosecuting body that works alongside the People’s Courts to oversee the handling of criminal cases, Zhang Lei and Li Baiguang raised the case of Huang Yizi. Huang, a pastor also sentenced to undisclosed residential surveillance for similar charges, had also allegedly sent letters to his family asking them not to hire lawyers for him and fire any who had already been hired.

Zhang Kai’s letter dismissing Zhang Lei. (Photo: China Aid)

“Why would these three people—Zhang Kai, Liu Peng, and Huang Yizi, who have been appointed to detention under residential surveillance in separate locations—unexpectedly all take the same action and put forward a dismissal of their defense lawyers?” Li Baiguang and Zhang Lei wrote. “Prosecuted criminals have the right to obtain lawyers to defend them. This is a clearly confirmed and fundamental human right, according to Article 11 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. … Why must [the PSB, procuratorate, and court] take initiatives to deprive these people of their fundamental human rights, [including] the right to a lawsuit?

“We have reason to suspect that it was not the true wish of Zhang Kai, Liu Peng, Huang Yizi and others to refuse to hire lawyers or to dismiss their lawyers; rather, it is extremely likely that they received some kind of intense, abnormal force that directed them to do so. Therefore, in order to protect the fundamental human rights of those involved and their fundamental right to sue—in order to protect the law’s correct implementation—we propose that the Wenzhou Municipal People’s Procuratorate inspect and lawfully monitor the Wenzhou PSB to see if there is any situation of abnormal dismissals of defense lawyers in the handling of the cases of Zhang Kai, Liu Peng, Huang Yizi, and others.”

Additionally, in another joint letter to the Wenzhou Ministry of Supervision, Zhang Lei and Li Baiguang accused the PSB of various crimes, such as detaining individuals without cause, unlawfully refusing to allow meetings, and refusing to supply information to the families of detainees regarding their location and status. The letter argued that the detentions of Zhang Kai and Liu qualified as “enforced disappearances” as defined by the U.N. General Assembly.

“It is the obligation for investigating organizations to inform the defense lawyer about the facts of the case which involve his client,” the joint letter said. “But the Wenzhou PSB continually refuses to tell us about [these cases] even after multiple applications.”

This letter mentioned that a previous call for action had been sent to the procuratorate, demanding supervision of the PSB’s actions and corrections of all violations.

“As the Wenzhou PSB illegally continues to refuse to give information about the case, even where the law has clearly defined these circumstances, there is reason to suspect that the Wenzhou PSB … simply does not have any evidence to prove that Zhang Kai and Liu Peng have committed a crime,” the letter continued.

Liu Peng’s letter dismissing Li Baiguang. (Photo: China Aid)

Zhang Lei wrote that he and Li Guisheng, another lawyer on Zhang Kai’s case, wrote to their client four times but received nothing from him in response until the dismissal papers.

The letter denounced the reasoning that the PSB repeatedly gave for denying meetings and continued its silence regarding case details—that doing so would “endanger national security”— as “inconsistent with legitimate legislative text and the spirit of rule of law” and argued that the stipulation that authorities can restrict communication on these grounds “does not mean that ‘requiring permission to meet’ can be abused by authorities into ‘never allowing any meetings.’”

The letter to the ministry of supervision concluded that the PSB “exhibits clear violations and extremely abnormal behavior in the handling of Zhang Kai and Liu Peng’s cases” and said that these problems had “seriously undermined the implementation of [China’s criminal law] and seriously damaged the legal rights of the parties involved and their defense lawyers.”

Zhang Lei and Li Baiguang called for the director of Wenzhou’s PSB, Huang Baokun, to be held directly responsible for the infractions.

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